If you know the true Katie, you will know two things: I hate massive groups of people and I hate anything involving camping and horses. This weekend involved both (hey, camels are close enough to horses…). I’ll try not to be a completely Debby Downer in the following post, but I definitely did not enjoy this weekend as much as some of my peers did. It certainly had its high points and I am extremely happy to have had the opportunity to cross camel riding and seeing Petra off my bucket list, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t longing for the comfort of Amman by the end of it all.
The weekend began in the most ideal way possible when, after classes on Thursday, we invited two of the Jordanian peer tutors over to the apartments to celebrate the only free night we would have all weekend. As you can see, I’m not completely anti-social – I just prefer small gatherings of friends with a sprinkling of new people. The “Jordanians” were actually of Italian and Circassian (think Russian) descent. We met up with another true Jordanian and, since he is Muslim and cannot drink, went to Rainbow Street to a café where people could smoke hookah. We only stayed until 12:30am since we had to meet the tour buses the next morning at 7:30, but it was great to meet a few Jordanians and impress them with my limited Arabic.
Friday morning (the equivalent of Saturday on the US calendar), we met bright and early outside the university. We were driven in huge, tourist-style buses to southern Jordan to see Wadi Rum. In Arabic, “wadi” means valley and “rum” can either refer to the people who inhabited the desert or “moon” because the desert looks like the surface of the moon. The nomadic Bedouins currently live in Wadi Rum and make their living off of hosting tours and herding sheep and camels. We arrived around 12:30pm and were given a delicious lunch at the visitor center.
Afterward, we were taken to the “campsite” which was actually a small city of permanent tents with actual beds inside of them! CIEE had made it sound as if we would be sleeping in the middle of the desert in traditional tents and sleeping bags, so this sight was a welcomed relief. We were given free keffiyehs (the red head scarves) and sent into the herd of camels where a Bedouin would properly tie our keffiyeh and then help us onto a camel. Then, we were off on an hour-long camel ride!
I have vivid memories of horseback riding as a child and hating every minute of it. My friends on the program had tried to tell me that camel riding was different than horseback riding but it wasn’t. Both are incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. After a few minutes of thinking, “How am I going to handle an HOUR of this?!” someone gave me the tip of crossing my ankles behind the back of the camel’s neck to relieve some of the pressure on my inner thighs. This helpful hint worked magic! I was able to enjoy the rest of the ride and snap several photos along the way…
Since I had read the blogs of other CIEE-Amman students, I knew how scary it was supposed to be when the camel sat down in order for me to climb off. It bends its front legs first, so you feel as if you are being thrown forward, but then, it bends its hind legs so you are given a quick jolt backwards. It was pretty amusing to watch everyone’s panic when their camel tried to sit down.
After the camel tour, we were ushered onto the back of pick-up trucks to be given a tour of the desert. We stopped at a few interesting and scenic locations. The first was a gorgeous overview of the desert. A few extremely brave souls tried climbing the rocks but were quickly reprimanded by the “danger” whistle CIEE wielded and were called back down.
Then we were taken on a few more less interesting stops before being sent back to the Bedouin camp to settle in for the night. I shared a tent with my two friends Caroline and Allison. It reminded me of a large army-style tent. It could have fit four twin-sized beds, but only had three. There were large Persian rugs on the floor instead of sand. The entire camp probably had 50 of these tents and a large dining/entertaining area where we were served another buffet.
After dinner, my mood plummeted. The entire place reminded me of a summer camp. As a child, I was sent to Girl Scout camp and I remember calling my mom in tears, requesting she come pick me up, because I hated it so much. While I dislike constantly feeling dirty and cold, I DISDAIN the forced “group bonding” activities the counselors would always make us do. Well, on this trip, the Bedouins were our counselors. They played music and tried to force everyone to dance around the fire to traditional music. It was far too cold and I was far too tired to put up with this. To make matters worse, this one specific “joker” Bedouin kept playing childish tricks on everyone. At one point he relentlessly begged me to let him put my keffiyeh, which was around my neck, onto my head. After saying “no, thank you, my neck is cold” about 38 times, I relented. He quickly snatched my scarf away from me and went running off into the darkness, giggling. After twenty years of life, I apologize for not taking well to being treated like a toddler.
Thankfully, a few of my friends also had had enough of the place and decided to leave camp to explore. We came across another camp nearby that had a café that served shisha and was playing music IN ENGLISH. After almost a month of nothing but Arabic music, my ears were yearning for Rihanna and Justin Beiber. About 8 of us stayed and found refuge in this Western paradise.
As soon as the other customers left and we were the only people left in the café, the Bedouin owners came over to chat with us. Finally away from the massive group, I felt more comfortable and even eager to experience the Bedouin culture. They played Arabic music and taught us traditional dances on the huge, circular dance floor. It was a great night until two CIEE assistants came to retrieve us.
Nights in Amman are freezing, but nights in the middle of the desert are even colder. CIEE warned us to bring as much warm clothing as possible and I heeded their warning. However, after a night of dancing, I was sweaty and exhausted. I crawled into bed wearing simply a t-shirt. I slept the entire night extremely warm under the fur blanket that was provided by the camp. The next morning, all I heard were the complaints of other students over how cold they were while sleeping. Apparently, most people were only given a thin blanket and, even while wearing sweatpants and jackets, were still too cold to sleep. I tend to get lucky sometimes, so I guess being assigned to the bed with the warmest blanket was just Allah smiling upon me!
As this blog post is already quite long, I will separate the two days and post my experience in Petra tomorrow!